The best independent guide to the Algarve
The best independent guide to the Algarve
Silves is a historic town that was originally the ancient capital of the Algarve.
During the Moorish era (9-12th century), Silves was a major stronghold and important trading centre. From the solid red-brick castle, the Moors defended the entire region, while from the harbour, boats sailed down the Arade River to trade with North Africa.
Today, Silves is peaceful and unhurried, but remnants of this illustrious past can be seen scattered throughout the town. This includes the imposing Castelo de Silves, heavily fortified gateways and the Gothic Se cathedral.
For your day trip, Silves is a joy to explore and has a distinctly Portuguese ambience, with open-air cafes, cobbled streets and a relaxed pace of life. Along with its rich history and fascinating sights, Silves lies within a scenic region, set along the banks of the slow-flowing Rio Arade and surrounded by the rolling hills of the Algarve countryside.
Silves is the best day trip of the central Algarve region and is highly recommended during your holiday or tour of the Algarve.
This article will show why you must visit Silves and how to get the most from your trip here.
Related articles: Algarve top 10 – The best day trips in the Algarve
The Castelo de Silves – The most impressive castle of southern Portugal, and from where the Moors ruled over the entire Algarve.
The Portas da Cidade – The heavily fortified gateway that leads into the historic centre of Silves, which sits on the delightful Largo do Município plaza.
The Se cathedral - The mighty Gothic cathedral that was constructed on the site of a Moorish Mosque, and was severely damaged by an earthquake in 1755.
The Portuguese ambience of Silves – The town has an authentic Portuguese atmosphere and a relaxed pace of life compared to the touristy resort towns.
Silves may only be a small town, but there is a lot to see, and it is a great destination for a day trip. No other place in the Algarve can rival Silves' long and varied history, while the castle is a truly unique attraction of southern Portugal.
Silves has a completely different ambience to the hectic coastal towns, and is a great location to experience typical Portuguese daily life. There is the daily market with stalls selling local produce, there are bustling cafes filled with locals, and restaurants serving traditional Portuguese dishes.
It may not take long to fully explore Silves, but you will enjoy all of your time spent here.
At the entrance to Silves castle is the statue of King Sancho I, who attacked and stormed the castle in 1189
Silves is one of the best destinations in the Algarve for a day trip, and there is decent public transport from the major tourist centres of Lagos, Portimão and Albufeira.
It takes three hours to fully see Silves. Usually, a day trip is longer to include lunch or to reduce the pace of sightseeing under the intense summer sun.
The historic centre of Silves is compact and can be easily explored on foot, but there are steep cobbled streets leading up to the castle. As with all sightseeing in the Algarve, it is best to start earlier in the day, when temperatures are slightly lower.
Silves is an excellent day trip, but it rarely gets that crowded with tourists. It will be significantly less busy than the other popular day trip destinations such as Lagos, Faro or Albufeira.
If you are driving to Silves, there is a large car park to the southwest of the town (GPS: 37.1848, -8.4420). Never try to drive in the historic centre as the roads are narrow and there is almost no car parking.
The main bus stop of Silves is next to this car park and close to the tourist information (see the map in the following section). Silves train station is 1.5km to the south of the town, and the walk is not very pleasant as part of it follows a busy road with no footpaths.
Insight: Other recommended day trips in the Algarve include Faro, Loule and Olhão.
Related articles: Faro guide - Loule guide - Olhão guide
The interactive map below shows a suggested tour of Silves. The grey line is the route from the train station to the historic centre.
Note: Zoom in or out to see all of the markers.
Sights of the tour: 1) Tourist Information office 2) Mercado Municipal (market) 3) Ponte Romana bridge 4) Rua Elias Garcia (shopping street) 5) Praça do Município 6) Portas da Cidade (gateway) 7) Câmara Municipal de Silves 8) Museu Municipal de Arqueologia 9) Igreja da Misericórdia de Silves 10) Silves Cathedral 11) Castelo de Silves 12) Muralhas da cidade (town walls) 13) Cruz de Portugal (a medieval cross)
The name of the Ponte Romana (3) (Roman Bridge) implies the bridge was constructed during the Roman rule of Portugal, but was actually constructed in 1445. The bridge spans the Rio Arade, which is a tidal river even though it is 13km upstream.
The Portas da Cidade (6) gateway has a narrow entrance that immediately turns left. This was to prevent a large-scale attack or a charge by horses.
The Rua da Sé that is the main street up from the Portas da Cidade to the castle
The Moorish ruins within the castle walls
The town walls (12) to the east of the Largo do Município, are very scenic and rarely get any tourists.
The Cruz de Portugal (13) is a 15th-century medieval cross, which is historically significant but is only a minor tourist attraction.
Small group tours are a great way to explore the Algarve and are a chance to meet fellow travellers. These tours remove the hassle of public transport, provide knowledgeable guides and pack a lot of sightseeing into a single day. We have worked with GetYourGuide.com for the previous six years, and some of their best tours of Silves include:
The majority of visitors to Silves are day-trippers, and very few even consider a night's stay within the town. This is a shame, as the town offers a peaceful setting, numerous restaurants and a true Portuguese experience, which is difficult to find in the Algarve.
If you are touring the Algarve, do consider Silves in place of the chaotic resort towns along the coastline. Silves offers excellent value for money, with all restaurants and cafes priced for locals and not over-inflated for tourists.
Accommodation in Silves and the surrounding area tends to be much cheaper, and this is due to the distance from the coastline, 12km to the south. For a holiday in Silves, it is best to have a car.
The map below shows the best accommodation and rental rooms in Silves. If you adjust the dates to your trip, it will display current prices and availability.
Silves was founded by the Romans, but it flourished under the North African Moors. The zenith of this era was in 1054 when Al-Mu'tamid commanded over the entire Algarve and parts of southern Spain.
During the 12th century, Silves was subjected to continued fighting, as the newly established Catholic Portugal tried to drive the Muslim Moors from the Algarve.
The castle was the focus of numerous battles; it was sacked by King Leon in 1160, sieged by King Sancho I in 1189 and then recaptured by a powerful Moorish army led by Amir al-Mu'minin in 1191. The final defeat of the Moors was in 1243, but this ultimately led to the demise of Silves, with the severing of trade routes to North Africa.
In 1755 the town was badly damaged by a massive earthquake, which destroyed much of the castle and cathedral. The earthquake also caused huge landslides that altered the flow of the Arade River and prevented it from being a navigable port. Since then, Silves has remained a minor town, and a centre for agriculture.
The cobbled backstreets of Silves
The easiest method to travel to Silves is by car. There is a large car park to the southwest of the town (GPS: 37.184949, -8.441779) and it is just a short walk to the historic centre.
Public transport within the central Algarve is very limited, but it is possible to travel to Silves from all of the main tourist areas (Albufeira, Lagos, Lagoa and Portimão).
Advice: Before your day trip to Silves, check and plan the route by public transport, as services can be very intermittent.
The train is the best option from Lagos, Faro and Portimão, but Silves train station is 1.5km south of the town. For the latest train timetable, please visit the Comboios de Portugal (CP) website:
(This is a pdf and may download on mobile phones)
There is a direct bus service from Albufeira to Silves (45min, €4.10), but it has only a few daily departures. For the latest bus timetables, please see the Eva bus website: eva-bus.com
The Algarve regional railway in the central Algarve follows a bizarre route and doesn't connect to any of the major towns.
The finest tourist attraction of Silves is the imposing castle that dominates the skyline. The castle dates from the 7th century, but the red sandstone brick battlements seen today originate from the 12th century, at the height of the fighting between the Christian Crusaders and the African Moors.
This constant fighting led to the construction of the castle's massive fortifications and ingenious methods to survive an extended siege. These features included a rain-fed cistern, which was so effective it was used by the town up until the 1920s.
Within the castle, there have been extensive archaeological excavations, and from the battlements, there are wonderful views over the town. At the entrance to the castle is a statue of King Sancho I, who led the first significant victory by the Portuguese in the Algarve by storming the castle in 1189.
Insight: You may wonder how the castle has remained in such a great state of preservation for so long. This is due to a major "restoration" project in the 1940s, which rebuilt most of the towers and battlements.
The Castelo de Silves sits on the highest point of the town
Silves and Loulé are both popular day trips for visitors who are based along the Algarve coastline. Both are historic towns and provide a chance to experience typical Portuguese daily life, but they are very different and will appeal to varying groups of tourists.
Loulé is much larger, being a bustling city, with a lively daily market and more shops. Silves has more character and charm, with an extensive history and impressive tourist attractions. In our opinion, Silves is the better destination for a day trip.
All of our guides to the Algarve